Modeling Autumn's Courage

Fall is here. I am just more than halfway between the date of my father’s passing and the date of his gravestone’s unveiling.

Seasonal changes. Transitions in weather. Transitions in life. They are inevitable, can be instructive, and often operate as necessary signposts that mark our evolving journey through life. 

Autumn... the year’s last, loveliest smile.
— William Cullen Bryant

For me, fall is a beautiful and favorite time of year, rich with color but also detecting the inescapable feeling that beneath the colors lies the stark and sometimes difficult realities of the long winter ahead. The emergence of the leaves' colors nudges into my awareness of the temporariness we all share. And yet, the colors are still a joy. This leads me to think about what William Cullen Bryant said, “Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.”

Bryant captured something important. Fall’s smile is in some ways a deeper smile than the one we usually wear. Fall’s smile reveals what was always there even as it was hidden beneath the dominant green of the summer’s leaves.

We all strive to “put our best face forward” for others to see, whether at work, in our relationships, or even with ourselves. Many of us simultaneously work hard to hide what is also there deeper within us, fearing the discovery or disclosure of what lies beneath the surface appearance.

With Fall’s arrival, what lies beneath shines forth in all its temporary glory. Fall is a time where the leaves’ colors can model for us that courageously revealing the more hidden and vulnerable aspects of ourselves can actually display the beauty, complexity and richness of our character that, when combined with our more dominant features – our greens – makes us truly whole.

Maria Popova, a favorite muse of mine, recently wrote:

A friend is a person before whom we can strip our ideal self in order to reveal the real self, vulnerable and imperfect, and yet trust that it wouldn’t diminish the friend’s admiration and sincere affection for the whole self.

Perhaps this season, each of us can consider what steps we might take to become more self-revealing and thereby more complete, more transparent, and more intimately whole. 

What does that involve? An ancient text suggests that every step we take is a little progress over fear. A step amidst the fear of being judged, of being abandoned, or hurt in some other way. Below are several suggestions to practice revealing your “real, vulnerable and imperfect self."

  • Be careful and discriminating about the person with whom you choose to be revealing
  • Be even more discriminating and selective about what you choose to reveal
  •  Start small, picking something that you know that the other person doesn’t know about you and that you can emotionally tolerate having that person know
  • Gradually increase the personal “threat level” of what you choose to reveal to another as you discover the hidden strength that lies buried within yourself, the value of which you have yet to fully uncover.